The Vanderbilt Police department may be stripped of its power to make arrests if a proposed state law is passed.
The law, sponsored by state Representative Mark Pody and state Senator Mae Beavers, aims to prevent Tennessee colleges and universities who discriminate against religious groups from maintaining a private police force.
Vanderbilt University Police Chief, August Washington calls the proposed bill “unbelievable.”
“This is not just about Vanderbilt,” said Washington, “It actually impacts the overall safety of our entire metropolitan community.”
Vanderbilt's police department consists of 91 sworn officers, who are subject to the same training requirements as Metro police officers.
According to Vanderbilt University, in 2012 VUPD's officers responded to 10,620 calls for service at the medical center, 6,161 on main campus, 612 at One Hundred Oaks and 602 off campus.
“What we depend on is the Vanderbilt police force to immediately lock down the emergency department when we have a trauma victim who is a victim of violence, of a gunshot, a stabbing or a beating and unfortunately, we have too many of them,” said Dr. Cory Slovis, head of VUMC's Emergency Department.
Republican lawmakers are concerned about Vanderbilt's “all-comers” policy, which states requires all organizations' membership and leadership positions be open to every student on campus regardless of “race, sex, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, military service, or genetic information.”
Carol Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School and also the faculty advisor to the Christian Legal Society, spoke out in favor of the proposed legislation.
“Vandy Catholic left campus because the policy would have required the Catholic organization to have non-Catholics lead their fellowships,” said Swain, “It has put these student groups in a situation where they're not able to grow in their faith [and] they have to operate underground. As long as they have to operate underground, there's no way that they can grow these organizations. They well eventually wither away and that seems to be the intent of University.”
“I can assure you that Vanderbilt isn't a bully,” said Liz Latt, a spokesperson for Vanderbilt University, “We're not discriminating. We have a non-discrimination policy to ensure that any student accepted at Vanderbilt has the opportunity to fully participate in campus life. It's not targeted at religious groups. All the student organizations are expected to abide by it.”
“If you can't define your religion by your beliefs, you don't have a religion,” said David Fowler, President of Family Action of Tennessee.
Fowler told Nashville's News 2, “Vanderbilt wants to say 'Poor, pitiful me' but it's not just Vanderbilt.”
Fowler said the bill is geared toward all Tennessee colleges and universities that have a non-discrimination policy who also have a private police force.
“The bill in itself when it's looked at, applies to any college institution that wants to have, or has, a private police force both now or anyone in the future,” Fowler explained.
Washington told Nashville's News 2 he's not sure how this law would affect their police department, only that he believes it would seriously jeopardize the safety of people both on and off Vanderbilt's campus.
“I have to tell you I do find it a sense of unbelievable that we're considering this,” said Washington.
Governor Haslam vetoed a similar proposal last year, saying the state should stay out of a private, university issue.
This bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Education committee sometime next week.
Click here to read the exact language of SB 1241.